Garding v. State

Decision Date23 June 2020
Docket NumberDA 19-0226
Citation466 P.3d 501,400 Mont. 296,2020 MT 163
Parties Katie Irene GARDING, Petitioner and Appellant, v. STATE of Montana, Respondent and Appellee.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

For Appellant: Larry D. Mansch, Toby Cook, Caitlin Carpenter, Montana Innocence Project, Missoula, Montana, E. Lars Phillips, Tarlow Stonecipher Weamer & Kelly, PLLC, Bozeman, Montana

For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Tammy K Plubell, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana, Kirsten H. Pabst, Missoula County Attorney, Missoula, Montana

Justice Jim Rice delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 Katie Irene Garding (Garding) appeals the denial of her petition for postconviction relief and an order granting partial summary judgment in favor of the State entered by the Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County. We affirm, and restate the issues as follows:

1. Did the District Court err by denying Garding's petition for postconviction relief based on her claim of ineffective assistance of counsel?
2. Did the District Court err by concluding the State did not fail to disclose exculpatory evidence?
3. Did the District Court err by concluding Garding failed to present newly discovered evidence?

¶2 Garding's conviction of vehicular homicide arises out of a tragic incident leading to the death of Bronson Parsons (Parsons) from injuries he sustained after being hit by a vehicle while walking along Highway 200 in East Missoula, in the early morning hours of January 1, 2008. State v. Garding , 2013 MT 355, ¶ 5, 373 Mont. 16, 315 P.3d 912. Parsons had been walking with a friend, Daniel Barry (Barry), who testified Parsons was hit by a bigger, dark-colored SUV or truck, possibly with a deer guard or other front end attachment. Another eyewitness, Deborah Baylor (Baylor), also reported that a dark-colored vehicle had hit Parsons with its passenger side. After the impact, the vehicle drove off. Garding , ¶¶ 5-6. After a lengthy period of investigation, the State charged Garding with vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of a fatal crash, tampering with evidence, and driving a motor vehicle without a valid license.

¶3 The case proceeded to a jury trial in 2011. In addition to the testimony of Barry and Baylor, the State provided testimony from the two Montana Highway Patrol officers who had conducted the investigation. The State did not retain an expert to conduct an accident reconstruction, and the officers did not conduct one. However, the State did provide the expert testimony of Dr. Gary Dale, the medical examiner who had examined Parsons. Dr. Dale testified the location and size of Garding's bumper was consistent with the injuries sustained in Parsons' calves. Garding , ¶ 15.

¶4 In response to cross examination by Garding's counsel, Dr. Dale acknowledged that any vehicle with a bumper of the same height could have caused Parsons' injuries.

Further, Garding's counsel presented the testimony of an expert forensic pathologist, Dr. Thomas Bennett (Dr. Bennett), that the irregular bruising on Parsons' calves could not have been caused by a bumper like the one on Garding's vehicle. Garding , ¶¶ 15, 32.

¶5 The jury heard testimony from Gabrielle Weiss (Wiess), who law enforcement initially suspected of hitting Parsons. Garding , ¶ 9. Weiss had made an unusual 911 call around the time of the accident, during which she identified herself as being in East Missoula. However, Weiss later explained she was reacting to an emergency when she called 911, and that she was actually in the Blue Mountain area at the time. Law enforcement agreed with Weiss after reviewing her cell phone records, and believed she was not driving the vehicle involved in the accident. Garding's counsel questioned Weiss, the investigating officers, and a Verizon representative who testified about Weiss' cell phone records, about Weiss' story. Garding's counsel emphasized that Weiss' vehicle contained a fabric impression from a pair of jeans, and that Verizon was unable to analyze several of Weiss' phone records. Garding's counsel pointed out inconsistencies in Weiss' story regarding her location, and secured an admission from Weiss on cross examination that she could not remember much about the night because she had been drinking heavily.

¶6 Highway Patrol Trooper Richard Hader (Trooper Hader) testified that the case went cold after police ruled out Weiss as a suspect, until he received a lead from Teuray Cornell (Cornell) almost one year after the accident. Cornell, at the time detained at the Missoula County Detention Center, contacted Trooper Hader to report that he had information about the accident. Cornell related to Trooper Hader that Garding had driven to his house later in the day on January 1, 2008, told him that she had hit a deer, and asked him to fix a broken light on the front of her vehicle, which Cornell did by affixing it with tape.

Garding , ¶ 10. On cross examination at trial, Garding's counsel got Cornell to acknowledge that he could not say with certainty whether Garding actually told him she hit a deer on the day he fixed her light. Garding's counsel also highlighted several different versions of the story Cornell had provided to police, and also elicited testimony from Cornell and Trooper Hader that Cornell was seeking to get out of jail when he contacted police regarding the accident. Garding's counsel also elicited testimony from Cornell's cellmate at the time that Cornell had told the cellmate he was going to lie to police about the accident.

¶7 Other primary witnesses in the case were James Bordeaux (Bordeaux) and Paul McFarling (McFarling), both of whom were passengers in Garding's vehicle on the night in question. Bordeaux, Garding's boyfriend at the time, testified that he and Garding had started drinking around 11:00 a.m. on December 31st, and met up with McFarling that afternoon. He reported the three of them continued to drink throughout the afternoon and evening, including at Red's Bar in Missoula and the Reno Bar in East Missoula. Garding , ¶ 12. After midnight, they went to a friend's house to purchase cocaine and, after they were unsuccessful, returned to Red's Bar. Garding hit the curb as she parked, and an officer observing this instructed her not to drive for the rest of the night. About 1:30 a.m., they left Red's Bar, with Garding driving, to again attempt to purchase cocaine in East Missoula. During this drive, Bordeaux testified that McFarling, who was sitting in the back seat, pulled out a gun and attempted to show it to Bordeaux. Bordeaux, who was sitting in the front passenger's seat while Garding was driving, turned around and started arguing with McFarling about the gun, causing a commotion in the vehicle. Bordeaux testified that, upon an impact, he spun around in his seat just in time to see a person flying through the air, and that Garding had stated, "I hit somebody." Garding , ¶12. Bordeaux testified they were "in a panic about what to do," Garding did not stop the vehicle, and instead, she drove back to Red's Bar, where she attempted to park close to the same spot where they had been parked when the officer told Garding not to drive that evening. Then, the three got into McFarling's vehicle and drove to Missoula, where the three stayed the night at McFarling's house. Garding , ¶ 12.

¶8 In exchange for his testimony, Bordeaux obtained a plea deal regarding a burglary charge arising out of the theft of McFarling's gun, which occurred the morning following the accident. Garding , ¶ 13. Garding's counsel attacked Bordeaux's credibility at trial by focusing on his plea deal and highlighting inconsistencies in the stories Bordeaux had given to police. Garding's counsel also emphasized the testimony of McFarling, who consistently stated he did not remember Garding hitting anything with the vehicle that night. Further, Garding's counsel had McFarling explain that he had no reason to lie to protect Garding, as he believed Garding aided Bordeaux in stealing his gun.

¶9 The jury found Garding guilty of vehicular homicide while under the influence, failure to stop immediately at the scene of an accident involving an injured person, and driving without a valid driver's license. Garding , ¶ 17. Garding appealed, challenging evidentiary rulings made by the District Court regarding witnesses, cross examination, and Garding's expert witness. Garding , ¶¶ 2-4. This Court affirmed, and the United States Supreme Court subsequently denied Garding's petition for writ of certiorari. Garding v. Montana, 574 U.S. 863, 135 S. Ct. 162, 190 L.Ed.2d 118 (2014).

¶10 On September 15, 2015, Garding, represented by the Montana Innocence Project, filed a petition for postconviction relief (Petition), raising three claims: ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC), discovery violations under Brady v. Maryland , 373 U.S. 83, 83 S. Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963), and newly discovered evidence of her innocence. Specifically, Garding claimed her trial counsel had been ineffective for failing to hire an accident reconstructionist; that the State had failed to produce x-rays of Parson's legs and photographs of an unrelated 2005 vehicle-pedestrian accident, both of which she claimed were exculpatory; and that post-trial accident reconstructions produced by new experts constituted new evidence that proved Garding's innocence.

¶11 The State filed motions for summary judgment on Garding's newly discovered evidence claims and her Brady claim regarding Parsons' x-rays, which the District Court granted after a hearing. The District Court then conducted a hearing on the remainder of Garding's claims, after which it denied the Petition in March of 2019. Garding appeals.


¶12 This Court reviews a district court's denial of a petition for postconviction relief to determine whether its factual findings are clearly erroneous and whether its legal conclusions are correct. Rose...

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